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Austin Fire Department Tells Boise, 'Wildfire is Everyone's Fight'

Austin and Boise swap firefighting knowledge at the Southwest Idaho Wildfire Mitigation Forum


  • U.S. Forest Service
As fire season approaches, Boise's firefighters are preparing themselves as best they can to protect the Boise foothlls and the Boise Front. In an effort to continue learning how to effectively fight fires sparked in the wildland-urban interface, the Boise Fire Department invited the Austin Fire Department from Austin, Texas to come compare notes.

Because the size of Boise's fire department is close in comparison to Austin's and since the two cities share many of the same wild fire challenges, they became key partners in the Fire Adaptive Communities Learning Network.  

Wildfire Program Coordinator Justice Jones, on behalf of the Austin Fire Department, spent the afternoon speaking to Boise's fire department on Monday, May 4 at the third annual Southwest Idaho Wildfire Mitigation Forum.

The room was filled with personnel from fire services, land management groups, resource managers, federal agencies, local nonprofits, university faculty and state and federal partners involved in fire mitigation. 

"We're teaming up against the challenges and we're going to be victorious," Jones told his audience. "We say in Austin, 'Wildfire is everyone's fight.'"

Jones shared some of Austin's fire mitigation successes, such as training all firefighters in basic wildland fire fighting techniques. Every truck caries a chainsaw, and the department works hard on evacuation plans.

"The evacuation phase is where people get killed," Jones said. "We can teach homeowners home defense methods, but we need to look at evacuation plans, too."

Jones also talked about the importance of using prescribed burning both as a tool to meet land management goals and a training opportunity for firefighters. He mentioned minimum suppression tactics that have a small environmental impact. 

"Don't do damage in the process of doing good," he said.

Then climate change came up. Jones was careful not to spark a debate, but stressed the changing climates are having effects on wildfire.
"You don't even have to call it climate change," he said. "The reality is, things are getting worse. Firefighters keep telling me, 'This is a career fire season.' I've been hearing that since 2005. Anyone will tell you it's changing, and it's driven by changes in climatic patterns."

Jerry McAdams, the wildfire mitigation 
Southern Idaho Firewise project manager Brett VanPaepeghem watches Justin Jones of the Austin Fire Department talk about ways Austin fights wildfires in the urban interface. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Southern Idaho Firewise project manager Brett VanPaepeghem watches Justin Jones of the Austin Fire Department talk about ways Austin fights wildfires in the urban interface.
coordinator for the Boise Fire Department, told the Boise Weekly he walked away from Jones' presentation with several good ideas. He especially liked how the Austin Fire Department uses a program called Ready, Set, Go and incorporates it with Firewise—another program that teaches homeowners how to defend their property against wildfire.

"They're using Ready, Set, Go on a more personal, family level," McAdams said. "The 'Ready' means hardening your home against fire threats, the 'Set' means having a family evacuation plan in place and the 'Go' is leaving early so you don't get trapped."

McAdams said connecting with individuals with the Ready, Set, Go program is a great way to lay the groundwork for creating more Firewise communities. He also sees the importance in evacuation training, something his department hasn't had the resources to do. 

"But it's integral in wildfire preparedness," he added.

Jones and his team are spending the next week in Boise to learn about how the City of Trees deals with wildfires in the urban interface. He'll get to tour the National Interagency Fire Center ("For firefighters, that's candy."), learn about the history of wildland fire fighting, and study another program he'd like to take home to Austin: the goats.

"We're really excited about the grazing program that they're using with the goat," Jones said. "We live in an area with a very sensitive environment and endangered species. This seems like a very low-impact alternative to consider."